Understanding Law Enforcement Accreditation Standards

by | July 10, 2023

Let’s paint the picture: Your agency has been getting your policy manual in order, making sure you’re conducting regular and effective training, and looking to demonstrate all around excellence in your operations. What’s the natural next step? Accreditation comes to mind. Community members and elected officials are increasingly expecting law enforcement agencies to be accredited by third parties. But you’ve heard that getting accredited is time-consuming, challenging and requires a lot of staff time your agency doesn’t have.

While it takes time to understand the accreditation standards and gather proofs of compliance, achieving accreditation may not be nearly as daunting as you think. If anything, it’s likely you’re already adhering to many or most of the standards set by your accrediting body.

Law enforcement accreditation, when approached with a proper understanding of the process and key elements, is attainable for agencies of all sizes and compositions. And it starts with understanding the accreditation standards so, in turn, you understand how to produce effective proofs of compliance.

There are three essential elements to understanding the accreditation process and achieving compliance:

  • Know how to read the standard
  • Look for proof elements in your policy manual
  • Use creativity to make policy compliance alive

Here, the focus will be on understanding the accreditation standards so you can ensure your policies are aligned. But, once your policies are aligned, you must apply those policies throughout your operations—that’s where the proof is created.

Understanding Law Enforcement Accreditation Standards

The first and most obvious step in the accreditation process? Read your accreditation manual. While it may be obvious, it isn’t necessarily the easiest. Reading and understanding the standards your agency must comply with requires you to use the same vocabulary as the accreditation manual. Know the difference between key terms, as that will impact what steps you need to take to achieve compliance.

Accreditation standards do not explicitly tell you what to do or how to do it, they simply outline areas of operation that you need to address.

A few key terms you’ll want to keep in mind include:

  • Personnel vs. Sworn: Does the standard apply to all personnel, including civilian personnel, or just to sworn officers? Make note of this language, as misunderstanding who the standard applies to can create significantly more work.
  • Audit vs. Inventory: Do you need to take a complete inventory of all your equipment, or merely audit a certain percentage or count? Again, pay close attention so you don’t create more work for your agency.
  • Policy vs. Plan: Do you need a written directive as part of your policy manual or a plan of action, written or unwritten, that lives outside of your policies?

Definitions matter and have a significant bearing on the amount of work needed to document and prove compliance with accreditation standards. You should also keep an eye out for key transitionary words or words that highlight what the standard actually includes. Don’t overlook the words “and” and “or.” These words can also change the work required to comply with an accreditation standard. Also note phrases related to time or frequency—words like “annually” or “monthly.” The exact wording of the standards helps you determine whether a written directive is required, whether the standard is time-sensitive, and what the minimal accepted standard is.

Remember, when it comes to accreditation standards, your agency is likely doing a lot—if not most—of what you need to do to be compliant. It’s simply a matter of confirming your compliance with the standards and gathering your proof of compliance. And accreditation standards represent the minimum an agency needs to achieve accreditation. While agencies are always encouraged to go above and beyond the standard—and many do—it is not required. Ultimately, accreditation standards do not explicitly tell you what to do or how to do it, they simply outline areas of operation that you need to address.

Once you understand the standards your agency needs to comply with to achieve accreditation, you can determine what changes may need to be made to your policy manual and implemented in your operations, which then creates the proof you need to provide to your accreditation assessor.

Need some support as you seek to obtain accreditation for your agency? Lexipol’s law enforcement accreditation services provide customized, hands-on guidance and expertise to help you prepare for and achieve accreditation.

Lexipol provides public safety and local government with solutions that combine the impact of information with the power of technology. We serve more than 2 million first responders and local government officials with policies, training, wellness resources, grant assistance, and news and analysis.

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